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Everything You Need to Know About Protein

Developed by Claudia Hleap MS, RD, CDCES & Dietetic Intern, Reagan Dishaw

Protein Intake Recommendations:

Here are the current recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for protein intake for different populations. These recommendations are in reference to your bodyweight in kilograms (to find your bodyweight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2).


Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

General Public

0.8 grams/kg/day

Pregnant Women

1.1 grams/kg/day

Lactating Women

1.3 grams/kg/day

More research is beginning to come out regarding the elderly population and their protein needs. This new research shows a higher recommendation for protein intake for the elderly population.

This research is evolving and although some recommendations have been formally updated in other countries, it is not yet the confirmed RDA for the elderly.


Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

Elderly (60+)

1.0-1.2 grams/kg/day

Elderly w/ acute or chronic illness

1.2-1.5 grams/kg/day

Elderly w/ severe illness, injury or malnutrition

2.0 grams/kg/day

How much is too much? Conditions where this would be Concerning?

When it comes to protein, “the more, the better” mentality is not ideal. The body can only absorb so much protein at a time. However, there is not a specific evidence-based maximum for protein intake for the general public as it depends on the specific individual, their physical activity levels, and overall health. Therefore, use the guidelines above to decide your protein needs (going a little above or below is fine), but try not to dramatically exceed your protein recommendation.

  • Eating excessively over your personal protein recommendation can increase your risk for kidney stones

  • Eating excessively over your personal protein recommendation could mean you’re eating excessive amounts of meat and/or saturated fat, thereby increasing risk of CVD

  • Those with kidney disease should discuss protein needs with their doctor and registered dietitian

Protein Needs for Athletes:

As stated before, when it comes to protein needs, they vary depending on each

person and situation, especially with athletes. Factors to consider when evaluating protein needs as an athlete include:

Type of athlete, current body weight, total energy intake, is weight loss or weight gain the goal?, exercise intensity and duration, training status, and age of athlete (to name a few).

General Protein Recommendations for Athletes:


Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

Average athlete

1.2-2.0 grams/kg/day

Endurance athletes

1.2-1.4 grams/kg/day

Strength/Power athletes

1.2-1.7 grams/kg/day

Trying to gain muscle

0.4 grams/kg/MEAL

Athletes in a calorie restriction

Higher end of 1.2-2.0 grams/kg/day

Strength training:

  • There is evidence to show protein consumption is beneficial when consumed either before OR after strength training (AT LEAST 3 grams protein needed for muscle synthesis)

  • Pre-exercise protein consumption helps to improve body composition by increasing energy expenditure for up to 48 hours after exercise

  • Protein consumption before or after resistance training stimulates muscle protein synthesis for up to 3 hours

Protein Absorption:

The body can only absorb so much protein at a time. So, how much? And in what time frame?

  • Protein utilization is optimized at ~25-30 grams per meal (some people can utilize upwards of 40 grams per meal)

  • Therefore, exceeding this range in one sitting is not going to provide additional benefits

  • Maximum rate of absorption is 8-10 grams of protein per hour

  • 2-4 hours between protein consumption of 20-30 grams is most beneficial

Protein Sources:

Approximate amount of protein found in common protein sources

(This is not an exhaustive list)



Grams of Protein (gm)


3 oz

28 gm


3 oz

26 gm


3 oz

22 gm


3 oz

22 gm


3 oz

20 gm


1 egg

6-7 gm


1 cup

8 gm

Greek yogurt

3/4 cup

18 gm

Cottage cheese

1/2 cup

14 gm

String cheese

1 string cheese

6 gm

Soy milk

1 cup

7 gm


3 oz

9 gm


1/2 cup

9 gm

Black beans

1/2 cup

8 gm


1/2 cup

9 gm


1/2 cup

7 gm


1/4 cup

6 gm

Peanut butter

2 tbsp

8 gm

Hemp hearts

2 tbsp

6 gm


1/3 cup

6 gm

Whey protein powder

1 serving

25 gm

What is a Complete Protein?

Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are also known as the 'building blocks of protein'. Nine of these amino acids are “essential” and therefore, must be consumed through the diet, while the other eleven “non-essential” amino acids are produced by the body. A complete protein is a food that is comprised of all nine of the essential amino acids.

What are sources of complete proteins?

All animal proteins are complete proteins (meat, seafood, eggs and dairy). Plant-based complete proteins include:

  • Tofu

  • Edamame

  • Tempeh

  • Miso

  • Soy

  • Quinoa

  • Buckwheat

  • Hemp seeds

What are some combinations of plant-based proteins that create a complete protein?

  • Beans + rice (black beans + rice)

  • Nuts/seeds + whole grain (peanut butter + whole wheat toast)

  • Beans + whole grain (hummus + whole wheat pita bread)

  • Beans + nuts/seeds (salad w/ chickpeas and sunflower seeds)

  • Dairy + whole grain (milk + whole grain cereal)

Animal Protein vs. Plant Proteins?

We know protein makes us feel full and satisfied. Is there a difference between animal protein vs plant-based protein as far as feeling full and satisfied?

No – there is no significant evidence showing one source of protein to be more satiating than the other. Similar amounts of protein regardless of source seem to result in similar levels of fullness/satiety.


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